In order not to incur another delay on my side, please allow me to post a raw version of the pitch we are con-currently putting together on this.
I will be happy if you can point out anything that isn’t exactly clear from this, and also follow up with more in depth explanations (hopefully more quickly):
Mother of Pearl is a scalable initiative creating critical skill sets and information
flows in a resource efficient way, where conventional approaches fail or are
In the harshest of conditions humans rely on the spoken word.
The combination of this most ancient technology with modern audio players
and memory technology is a key enabler on a broad set of issues.
1. Affordable: Our approach uses very compact and affordable audio
players (0.8 to 2 EUR) and allows spreading accurate, up to date, and
appropriately customized information to a target audience that may be
illiterate, struggling, and remote.
2. Minimal capex, custom opex: There are no front heavy investments
such as building, staffing, and attending of conventional schools. The
syllabus can be tested, tailored, and refined to actual needs and
3. Bootstraps out of a backpack: It can be launched with minimal logistical
demands in a crisis situation with all relevant information pre-loaded
and requires minimal management, because it is literally self-explaining.
4. Practical: Importantly the devices are compact and robust enough to be
used during housework, fieldwork, relief work, guarding, or menial tasks,
and can even be operated by pre-school age children. Unlike broadcasts
it can be re-listened and scheduled on demand. And unlike books not
light or calm .
5. Data rich: Being inherently digital this approach allows for transparency
and accountability, with little risk of misuse. With minimal overhead it
becomes possible to improve or translate content locally and allow for
extremely detailed two-way information flow, uninhibited by literacy
Once these networks are established they can relay literal information
(ebooks) with very few limitations.
6. Learn from Failure: Catastrophic failure of the devices is rare. Care,
operation, and repair familiarizes the users with key concepts of battery
care, solar charging, and electronics at minimal risk and cost.
Our pilot project aims to demonstrate viability and feasibility using (focus)
groups in Cameroon (also known as Africa in miniature).
The groups are:
- (young) women
- prison inmates
- internally displaced persons
About the name:
Mother of Pearl, or nacre, is the result of an intricate organic process that
creates a useful, beautiful, and strong (if somewhat brittle) material from some
of nature’s most abundant substances.
It is also used to contain crises from spreading and will at times yield pearls
that rival the most rare of materials in their diverse beauty.
Regarding your questions:
(Can I guess? 1) Maybe not everyone can read, so spoken “classes” via MP3 players work better? Or 2) “everyone” has an MP3 player but not a phone? Or 3) simpler for you to record the classes & instructions, with MP3 players? Or 4) people tend to have neither phones nor MP3 players? But a few people do have MP3 players, so everyone can gather around someone’s MP3 player and listen all of them together? or 5) you have MP3 players which you lend to the people in the camps … sounds complicated with 4 M displaced ppl though
- Guess correctly! Also mix of education and entertainment (ideally mnemonic songs) so that various demographics can be catered to.
- Close. Yeah, mp3 players are affordable even by the standards of the global poor (less than 1 USD / day). Also: mp3 players are a less “fungible” bartering commodity, and prone to misuse.
- Absolutely! We’re actually making an effort to start up the beginning structures for the audience to start making, adapting, and improving their own material. Also, once you can do this - most of it is a very transferable skill set.
- Yup, this is something I haven’t gone into detail about yet, but you’re right. Where OLPC is “one laptop per child”, this is more intended to be “one mp3 player per 3 kids” (one per earphone, who explain the lecture to a third - who then gets tested). We’ll surely experiment with loudspeaker / group scenarios but the feedback is less granular in most cases, and I’d like to explore what the intimacy of the relationship can do for us e.g. in sensitive issues such as STDs (sexually transmitted diseases - where you don’t tend to want to ask a lot of detail questions, and ask for a re-run of the lecture…)
- Yeah - this will be a highly interesting question: How to epitomize delivery, and then “attrition / survival” of the devices, and perhaps how to optimize “self organization” (e.g. via spoken guidance) - perhaps optimized for maximizing content impact, player survival rates, repair proficiency increase, player diffusion, content diffusion, etc.
Super interesting in my opinion! Like a little version of JRR Tolkiens ring in some way.
And I’d posit there is only one way to find this out: do it.